By Peter Schwartz
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Operating a sports franchise in New York City is very much like producing a Broadway show. If you want people to come see you perform, you better have at least one superstar. So when New York City FC plays their inaugural MLS season in 2015, they will follow that simple rule by having one of the best soccer players in the world performing at Yankee Stadium.
On Monday, the club announced the signing of Spanish forward David Villa to a three-year contract on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid. He comes to New York City with a couple of responsibilities.
“I want to try and help MLS continue to grow, through playing, working hard, scoring goals and at the same time try to make New York City FC become the best team in the league,” said Villa.
NYCFC’s official website did an exclusive interview with Villa, which you can read here.
The 32-year-old native of Langreo, Spain will play for his country in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. The all-time leading goal scorer for the Spanish National Team, Villa was a member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup championship team. He won three La Liga titles — two with Barcelona in 2010-11 and 2012-13 and one this year with Atletico Madrid — and won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2010-11.
He is a superstar in every sense of the word, and NYCFC is excited to have him.
“This is a historic and exciting moment for the City family and the building of New York City Football Club,” said City CEO Ferran Soriano. “I know David really well. He is one of the best footballers in the world, a true winner and in an outstanding moment of his career. I’m sure New Yorkers will enjoy watching him play for their city.”
The 5-foot-9, 148-pound striker became the first player to score 50 goals for the Spanish National Team and now he comes to the United States for the next chapter in his career. He will officially join NYCFC in January of 2015 when the expansion club’s preseason begins.
While Villa will mean a lot to NYCFC on the field, he’ll mean just as much off the field, as he is already a centerpiece of the team’s marketing. The club is already selling Villa NYCFC T-shirts on their website, and has Villa on a huge billboard in midtown Manhattan near Penn Station.
His signing is proof that NYCFC is serious about both winning and making a splash.
“With the marketplace and with as many options as people have in New York City, you have to work hard to differentiate yourself in the market,” said NYCFC Chief Business Officer Tim Pernetti. “This matches up, in every way, to the DNA of the club that we’re continuing to develop.”
Villa’s new playground will be Yankee Stadium, the team’s temporary pitch while it searches for a site to build a permanent home. Villa has already played a match in the Bronx with the Spanish national team, but starting in 2015, 161st Street and River Avenue will be his home office.
“I hope a lot of people turn out to watch us,” said Villa. “It would be nice to create expectation for the fans before the season starts by playing well and getting good results so that New Yorkers can watch their soccer there, identify with their team and become New York City fans.”
New York City FC has experienced plenty of firsts since January. They named Jason Kreis as their first head coach, introduced the team’s official badge (logo), found their first home in Yankee Stadium and signed up their first season-ticket holder in former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
And now, they have their first player in Villa.
“We believe that there’s no other player who would be more fitting to be a New York City FC player and the perfect first signing for our club,” said Sporting Director Claudio Reyna. “Today, he continues to be regarded as one of the best forwards in the world.”
For the past five months, the club’s entire technical staff — along with the scouting department of City Football Group, the holding company for Manchester City and NYCFC — has looked all over the world for players with the specific interest of finding that very special first player.
Now that Villa is in the fold, Kreis and the rest of the organization can start the process of building around their marquee player.
“David scores goals, creates goals and has demonstrated a willingness to work hard for his teams,” said Kreis. “We’re looking for qualities in players that match up with the way we want to play, with who we want to be and how we can provide the right platform for David to succeed in our team.”
For many years, soccer fans in the New York metropolitan area have been treated to some of the best players in the world, from Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia of the original Cosmos to Roberto Donadoni of the MetroStars to Thierry Henry of the Red Bulls to Marcos Senna of the current-day Cosmos.
And now, New York City FC welcomes Villa, who will be looked upon to fill not only the back of the net with goals, but also the seats at Yankee Stadium with fans.
“It’s a real honor that the people who have formed the club have focused their attention on me,” said Villa. “I’m keen to do the best I can, take on board that extra responsibility and prove my worth by repaying the confidence they have shown in me.”
Many years ago, fans came to Yankee Stadium to cheer on their beloved No. 7, Mickey Mantle. Starting next year, there will be a new No. 7 who will dazzle the spectators in the Bronx. He won’t do it with a bat or with his arms, but rather with his feet.
At “The House That Ruth/Jeter Built,” Villa will be looked upon by New York City FC to help build a winning club and establish a mission statement of winning championships.
Just like the baseball team that plays there.
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